We’re at a point in society in 2018 where I feel confident people can acknowledge that abuse isn’t just physical. Mental and emotional abuse (through control, negligence, gaslighting, and other manipulations and mind games), sexual abuse, and financial abuse may not leave visible bruises but leave a lasting impression on their victims and survivors. Survivors of abuse often have complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), but I’m not a doctor so don’t necessarily take my word for it.
What I can tell you is that I reached out to my social network to ask for examples of financial abuse from their own pasts and I was overwhelmed by the stories they shared with me.
It is financially abusive to neglect practical life issues in a way that requires your partner to compensate for them. Whether it’s paying a $25.00 parking ticket because you can’t be bothered to put enough quarters in the meter, or it’s paying $150 for unplanned groceries when the freezer is already stocked, or it’s cancelling income-generating work commitments to handle everyday crises, or it’s simply deploying emotional, social and logistical resources to solve practical problems to a degree that sabotages your partner’s health and well-being, it is abusive.
My ex bullied and pressured me into having a credit card saying I must build a score. I didn’t want one but he pushed for months. When I had one, his pressure for me to buy one of or pay for half of tons of needless shit was relentless. I made minimum wage and he was bullying me to pay for half of DVDs I told him I didn’t want. Half of new couches I didn’t want. So on and so forth. It really made it hard to leave because I couldn’t make it as easily on my own now, and guess who was on me to pay those cards off. But after him I never took on another card and treated debt like bondage and while he didn’t teach me shit, I taught me a lot through that and now I teach others.
My significant other used to take pride in having amazing hiding spots. On more than one occasion, I found money hidden throughout the house or his car. Once, we needed diapers and had zero money. I open up his glove box and find $20 hidden in there. I was livid because here I am freaking out about buying our child diapers and he has this money hidden. That he “forgot” about because he “put it up for a rainy day.” Well, I don’t know what’s more rainy than needing diapers for your child.
On a more long term occasion, he took over the finances and never told me anything. Where the money went, what bills we had paid, and when I asked to do a budget, he was always too busy. He told me every pay day how much money I could spend, and it was my responsibility to stay within that limit.
While we were separated he was still financially supporting me while I went to school. One night I asked him to not slam my door and he responded “who pays for your right to use that door?”
I applied for child support the next day.
After I filed for child support, he drained our bank account. Two months in a row. The first month I had been able to pull out money for my rent before he attempted to take out all of the money, his transaction bounced and he swore it was an accident, the second month we both did the transactions at the same time, over drafting the account $1500. He has been avoiding service and cut us off financially until it is court ordered, while he draws out the process as long as possible.
My ex was laid off for about six months and was receiving unemployment at a decent rate because he his job paid really well. I had been saving up money for a trip we were taking, which we postponed in order to cash flow our budget while he looked for a job. The problem was that he wouldn’t talk to me about making a budget. ‘There isn’t a point in making a budget when I don’t even have a job,’ was his response when I wanted to take a look at the finances. All the bills got paid and we didn’t incur any debt during his six month stint of unemployment, but the housework was still all my responsibility and he continued spending at his previous levels while my savings account dwindled to keep him from using credit cards. He routinely used my belief in being debt-free as a way to leverage my extra cash flow to meet financial goals while he never had to be accountable for his own finances.
My ex intentionally overdrafted my bank account by $600. He’d spend every dime I earned even if it meant I couldn’t buy necessities for myself or my daughter. He made me get a collateral loan on my car to pay his legal fees, then turned around and revealed he had $1200 stashed in the air vent in our room. He spent it on a mattress and an xbox, both of which he sold shortly after. He bought expensive items on credit in my name then didn’t pay. He pawned my engagement ring. He would sell anything I owned that had any value.
My first live-in boyfriend used to spend all of his money (he made at least twice as much as I did ) on fast food and who knows what else and I had to work two jobs while going to school full time to make the bills. I didn’t have food for myself for a week because of that. Thank God one of my jobs was at a restaurant so I at least had one employee meal.
Not every story of financial abuse is from a romantic partner. Many family relationships are also tainted by financial control, withholding, and abuses.
When I fled my father’s house because of all the yelling and etc, he took away my emergency credit card, which was in my name but for which he held the main account—because I didn’t have credit yet, being 18. He called me on my friend’s landline (I had fled to my college roommate’s house) to tell me that it was time for me to learn to be “responsible.” I had never failed to pay it off each month, so it was obviously about control and not any kind of lesson in financial responsibility.
The woman who raised me for the worst parts of my childhood is a millionaire. Her money has always been of the ways she controls others. She’ll buy anyone close to her anything, but it’s a deal with the Devil. When I was struggling, she offered to buy me a car. I was desperate and picked out a $3000 used car. She took me to the dealer and picked out a brand new Ford Explorer. It was nice, all the bells and whistles. I sat down in the driver’s seat and I remembered another Explorer she’d bought, 12 years prior.
For my ex brother in law and all of the strings that came with it, how he danced like a monkey because she financed it in both of their names and how she eventually let it get repossessed because he wouldn’t dance like a monkey anymore.
I left the dealer without a car. The bus never felt more like freedom.
You mean like when my mom got pissed at me for losing my virginity and forced me to quit my job and closed out my checking account, pocketing the money from it? What about when I was required to pay for a car (and insurance, etc) that I was only sometimes allowed to use and had to share with my mom? What about when they threatened to report that car stolen if I left in it when they were berating me, since it wasn’t in my name even though I’d paid for it for a year and a half? They also threatened to make me lose my scholarships that I had through the district by transferring me to another one for the last 3 months of my senior year, because they were pissed at me for losing my virginity. I went to everyone I could think of at the school for all of this, and no one did jack shit to help me.
I used to help a WAHM in high school and I would hide all of the money I got from that and when I was gone my mom would search my room to find my new hiding places and steal my money. I also couldn’t have a bank account because she would have 100% access to it since I was a minor. I had to ask the lady I was helping to just keep the money then I would tell her what I needed/wanted to use it for. I had to spend birthday/Christmas money right away or it was gone.
My aunt funded the difference between living on campus and living off campus for my college. My junior year of college my mother told me my aunt had changed her mind and would no longer fund college expenses. She also told me I was not welcome to stay with family and thus I would have to withdraw from college. I called my college finance office in tears ready to withdraw. They found a handful of scholarships for me to make up the difference and I was able to stay in college.
Years later, my aunt asked why I stopped sending thank you cards after my sophomore year for the college expenses. It turns out my mother pocketed $6,000 total over two years that my aunt had given her to pay my college bills.
This is the most egregious of several similar stories.
Other readers shared stories of witnessing financial abuse, if not experiencing it directly themselves, as a result of divorce.
My dad lied and got primary custody of us and used to give us, as kids, handwritten invoices to give my mom for “her half” of things. He would nickel and dime her down to the penny for things like “three packs of pens for school” and “6 spiral bound notebooks.” When I refused, he made my brother (who is developmentally delayed) do it. I finally screamed, ‘Use a stamp or walk out to the car during pickup because I’m not going to keep being your mule and neither is my brother’ around age 15 and he finally stopped. The worst part was he was incapable of seeing what an asshole it made him. Like, he cried when I yelled at him. “I could have taken so much more I’ve been so nice” …he was horrified that I thought this was so villainous.
My bio-dad would take me shopping with my three half-siblings and step mom, and he’d buy those kids things and not me. If I questioned it, he’d say it’s because he paid my mom child support already, so he wasn’t spending any other money on me.
These survivors share their stories in the hopes that sharing and educating others about the realities of financial abuse can help others recognize and escape abusive relationships.
For help identifying or leaving an abusive relationship, please contact the Domestic Violence Hotline. 1-800-799-7233